Friday, September 24, 2010


POLLING JEWS – What do predominantly liberal Asian-Americans think of President Barack Obama's policies on Tibet? Where do America's 2.35 million Muslims stand on Washington's conduct of the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan? It's hard to say. Yet minute shifts in American Jewish public opinion are carefully tracked.

Why do the views of US Jews, who comprise at most 3% of the population, seem to matter so? Just asking the question makes some people flinch because of the inference that there is something illegitimate about Jewish influence. Actually, it is America's meritocracy that has rewarded Jewish educational and socioeconomic achievement -- at least 139 of the Forbes 400 are Jewish -- allowing Jews to be "over-represented" in medicine, science, law, media, entertainment, and politics. There are no Jews in the Obama cabinet, but two of the president's top aides are Jewish as is the vice president's chief of staff. On Capitol Hill, 13 senators and 31 House members are Jewish.

Jewish public opinion matters, therefore, says Hebrew University political scientist Tamir Sheafer, because Jews are perceived to be an important, well-organized and powerful interest group. They are major financial contributors to political campaigns and in certain states the high turnout of Jewish voters (usually for the Democratic candidate) can help swing an election. For Kenneth D. Wald of the University of Florida, "Jewish opinion matters because Jews, despite their small numbers, are hyper-political, far outperforming non-Jews in registration, turnout, volunteering, campaign activity, contributions and mobilization." Wald says politicians pay attention to Jewish opinion because "passion and intensity outweigh numbers."

Late last week, a McLaughlin & Associates poll showed that if US presidential elections were held now only 42 percent of Jewish voters would re-elect President Barack Obama; a dramatic drop considering that 2008 exit polls gave candidate Obama 78% of the Jewish vote. Asked if they approved of the president's handling of America’s relations with Israel only half said they did. An earlier survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee, however, found that 55% of Jews approved of Obama's approach toward Israel. Conservatives have suggested that Obama's adversarial approach toward the Netanyahu government has cost him Jewish support; liberals postulate the president's perceived drift toward the pragmatic center on domestic issues could just as easily be the explanation. In any event, 70% of Jews say they feel a bond with Israel, yet experts agree this attachment does not top their agenda.
How does all this translate politically? Oddly enough, the Obama administration would not be the first to seek support from the Jewish community to sustain Washington's long-standing approach of dissociating its "rock solid" backing for Israel from opposition to its West Bank and other security policies. With only 37% of American Jews in the AJCommittee survey disapproving outright of Obama's handling of relations with Israel, community leaders are just as likely to lobby the Netanyahu government to change its policies as pressure the administration in the opposite direction.

- April 2010

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